Opinion

Ian Rush: The Greatest Striker in LFC History

Simply the Greatest Goal Scorer Ever to Set Foot on Anfield’s Turf

Ian James Rush, MBE, was born on the 20th of May, 1961. He was raised with four sisters and five brothers in the town of Flint, St Asaph in North-East Wales. At just thirteen years of age, he began to show his incredible ability, and Ian’s only agenda in life was to become a professional footballer.

He began playing schoolboy football at Deeside Primary School, and even then his goal scoring ability was strikingly evident. He’d already caught the eye of many scouts despite his young age. Having had trials with Burnley and Wrexham, he began his playing career as a youth for Chester. He struck up a bond with the youth team manager at the time, as Ian was a shy lad, but felt at ease at the Cheshire club. During his time there he excelled and continued to impress the lurking scouts, going on to score 17 goals in 39 games.

Liverpool’s scout Geoff Twentyman was a regular visitor to Chester games and had already alerted a certain Bob Paisley to the very talented striker he’d been watching. As Rushie continued to move through the ranks of Chester, Paisley approached him and offered a contract with Liverpool FC. As a relatively timid lad, he was initially hesitant about the move. Paisley could see that the young man was nervous and decided to bring him to Anfield to show him exactly what he’d be missing out on if he were to turn the move down. This quick thinking by Bob, and an offer from his then manager to return to the club if Liverpool didn’t work out, clinched the deal for the 18-year-old.

SIGNING FOR LIVERPOOL FC

Ian Rush signed for Liverpool FC in a £300,000 deal during April of 1980, which was a world-record fee at the time. Liverpool had swooped ahead of teams such as Manchester City, and in spite of Ian being brought up as an Evertonian, his love for Liverpool flourished.

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Primarily playing in the reserve team during his first season was expected particularly due to his age and lack of first-team experience. However, he did manage to make his senior debut that season after Kenny Dalglish was ruled out of a game against Ipswich due to an ankle injury. Dalglish, at the time, was rated as one of the best strikers in the world and would later become Rush’s strike-partner.

Rushie donned the famous Red number ‘7’ jersey on the 13th of December, 1980. Wearing that pedigreed number was quite a daunting responsibility for the young lad, but he had a decent debut for the Reds with the game ending in a 1-1 draw. Liverpool went on to lose the League title that year to Aston Villa, but did however, go on a win another League Cup and the European Cup for the third time, which made Bob Paisley the first manager ever to win Europe’s greatest competition three times.

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SETTLING INTO HIS NEW SURROUNDINGS

Rush’s reserved nature meant that he had trouble adapting to his new life, and he didn’t like the senior players winding him up. Rushie decided to approach Paisley and declared that he wanted a chance in the first team, or else he’d leave the club. Bob responded by saying that he’d make him available for transfer immediately. Rush left his office that day determined to show his talent and that he could score goals in abundance in the reserves to attract other clubs. He went on to score five goals in their next 4 games.

This is where the genius mind and managerial skills of Bob Paisley came into play. Paisley was brilliant at pretty much everything he did, but particularly in how he dealt with players on an individual basis. Paisley had absolutely no intention of selling Rush, as he was well aware of his ability and how good he could potentially become, but he knew the threat of him leaving the club would make him play his socks off to try and impress, and his plan worked a treat.

On the 30th of September, 1981, in a European second-leg tie against Finnish side Oulun Palloeseura at Anfield, Rush scored one of Liverpool’s seven goals on the night after coming on as a sub. Rushie now had a golden opportunity to establish himself in the senior side. He scored a brace against Exeter in the League Cup, and netted another two goals in the League against Leeds, and didn’t stop until he tallied 30 goals for the season. The pinnacle of the bunch being his goal in the League Cup final at Wembley. Ronnie Whelan scored two with Rush adding a third to give Liverpool a 3-1 win on the day against Spurs.

(Look out for Bruce Grobbelaar’s celebrations at the end 😂)

During the 82/83 campaign, few believed that Rush could continue scoring at the same rate as the previous season, but he went on to prove them all wrong scoring 24 League goals. His stand-out performance came against Everton on the 6th of November, 1982, when he scored four goals in a 5-0 thrashing. He was voted PFA Young Player of the Year, and Liverpool went on to win the League and Cup double.

LETHAL PARTNERSHIP

Dalglish and Rush had by now become a formidable duo, and their understanding of each other’s play was mind-blowing at times. Rush was pacey and lethal in front of goal, a predator as such, and usually made his runs long before his opponents had even noticed.

Dalglish was the brains of the pair, playing perfectly weighted passes to open up the opposition. Rush tried to be very unselfish with his game, but Paisley made it absolutely clear that he wanted the striker to be as selfish as possible because the manager knew how potent he could be in front of goal. A real defenders nightmare.

Bob Paisley once said:

“If you’re ever in the box and you don’t know what to do with the ball, put it in the net and we’ll discuss everything else afterwards.”

The 1983/84 season was arguably Rush’s greatest for Liverpool. He scored a breathtaking hattrick at Aston Villa, four goals against Coventry, and put five past Luton. He was labelled a goal-scoring machine; and all eyes were on Ian Rush, not just in England, but all over the World.

That same year, Bob Paisley stood down as Liverpool manager, signing off as perhaps the greatest English manager ever. What he achieved in nine years was just incredible. Joe Fagan then took the reigns, but boy did he have big boots to fill.

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During the semi-final of the European Cup against Dinamo Bucharest, Rush netted two goals and then went on to score against AS Roma in the final which ended in a penalty shoot-out. Grobbelaar used his famous ‘Wobbly Leg’s’ antics, which led to Liverpool winning the shoot-out after the game finished in a 1-1 draw. Liverpool also won the League, finishing three points clear of their rivals Southampton, and the League Cup, defeating Everton in the first ever all-Merseyside final.

RECORD-BREAKING YEAR FOR RUSH

But this year belonged to our absolute legend — Ian Rush. He scored 47 goals in 65 games, making him the highest goalscorer in all competitions for any professional club that season. He smashed Roger Hunt’s record of 41 goals in a season, which had stood for twenty years. Rush also won the Golden Boot for scoring the most European goals that season, as well as the Football Writers Footballer of the Year, which had been won by his strike-partner, Kenny Dalglish, the previous year.

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In 1984, Rush admitted that for the first time he was tempted to leave his beloved club, even after having the most successful season of his career to date. Napoli had made a £1 million offer to sign him, and he was keen to hold talks with the club as a result. But Liverpool chairman John Smith refused the deal, and Napoli went on to sign the one and only Diego Maradona. Ian Rush was staying at Anfield and going nowhere for the immediate future.

Rush later admitted that this was one of his biggest regrets, and lamented not getting the opportunity to play alongside Maradona. He said:

“I was lucky enough to play against him but unfortunately I never got the chance to play with him. He was absolutely incredible, and he made such a big impact everywhere he went, but at the end of the day, how lucky was I to play alongside Kenny Dalglish”.

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In the 1984/85 season, Rush sustained his first setback after missing the first fourteen games due to injury. In his first game that season he drew a blank against Everton, but then came back with a vengeance, scoring a hattrick against Benfica in the second round of the European Cup. Rush repeated his feat from the previous year when he scored two goals in the semi-final against Pananthinicukos at Anfield, but that year’s European Cup final, held in Brussels at the Heysel stadium, ended in utter tragedy.

THE HEYSEL DISASTER

On the 29th of May, 1985, Juventus fans fled from Liverpool supporters who’d breached the fence that divided the two, Juve’s fans ran for the terraces and got pressed against a wall that collapsed crushing fans under its weight. Thirty-nine people were killed, and 600 were seriously injured.

Unbelievably, the game played on and Liverpool lost 1-0. Although the result paled in comparison to the horrifying events that had transpired that night. The disaster was later described as the darkest hour in the history of European football. UEFA placed an indefinite ban on all English clubs in European competitions for the foreseeable future. The ban wasn’t lifted until five years later with Liverpool having to serve an extra three years on top of this, later reduced to one year. Liverpool didn’t return to European competitions until the 1991/92 season.

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As a result, not only did Liverpool end the season trophyless for the first time in ten years, but they were also beaten by local rivals Everton, who were crowned champions with four matches to spare. This meant that Liverpool and Rush were unable to compete in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup. What a blow to a club who were so dominant in Europe at the time, and Liverpool suffered financially as a result. Kenny Dalglish was appointed as player/manager the same year after Joe Fagan stood down as manager due to ill health.

The 85/86 season saw Rush scoring twice as Liverpool beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane, booking themselves a place at Wembley in the final to face Everton in the first ever Merseyside FA Cup final. Rush scored twice as Liverpool won the game 3-1, and completed the first ever League and FA Cup double in the club’s history.

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Rush was awarded the Man of the Match award in that game; however, the ban on English clubs in European competitions still remained, and Liverpool were unable to enter the 86/87 European Cup. Rush missed his strike partner as Dalglish, the now player/manager, began to select himself less frequently in the line-up, and Rush was partnered alongside Paul Walsh as his new strike-partner.

JUVENTUS CALLING

Rush admitted that he wanted to play with the cream of the continent. He wanted to test himself against the best players in the world, so when Juventus came knocking with a £3.2 million offer he signed for the Seria A club on the 2nd of July, 1987. Given what had previously transpired in Heysel, many thought that this wasn’t the best time for a Liverpool legend to be heading to Turin.

Surprisingly though, 5000 Juventus fans met Ian Rush at the airport on his arrival. Rush said himself that the fans supported him throughout his time at the club despite what’d happened. They chanted his name during every game and wanted him to do well.

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Despite only spending one season at Juventus, scoring 14 goals, Rush wasn’t disappointed with his time in Italy, even though the league was far more defensive than he was accustomed to.

He said:

“I spent most of my time defending in my own half, but I think I became a better player having learnt how to play beyond the penalty box. I also think that it improved relations between Juventus and Liverpool after the Heysel disaster. The only reason I returned to Liverpool was after talking to Kenny Dalglish who convinced me to come back. I wouldn’t have returned for any other club”.

RETURNING TO LIVERPOOL

Ian Rush made his return to Anfield on the 18th of August, 1988, when Liverpool signed him for £2.7 million, a record-signing for an English club at the time. The fans were ecstatic to see their hero back and a new song ‘Rushie is back, Rushie is back’ rung around the stadium. Dalglish had brought in John Aldridge, Peter Beardsley and John Barnes, and even though these were all top quality players, Rush admitted that these three players combined still weren’t as good as Dalglish. However, Rush strongly disagreed with the claims that he and Aldo couldn’t play together due to their similar styles.

“We actually had a brilliant record when we did play together and our supposed rivalry was rubbish. We actually got on very well together on and off the pitch. John’s a great lad”.

However, on Rush’s return, Aldo was scoring goals left, right, and centre, and was keeping Rush benched for quite a few games. As the season progressed, Rush came into some form and started scoring again. He scored twice against Everton in a trawling 3-2 win in the 1989 FA Cup final.

This one had great significance because of the events on the 15th of April of that year when Liverpool played against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough. The game was halted after six minutes when overcrowding caused a human crush in the Liverpool end. Ninety-six men, woman, and children died against the fences that segregated fans from the pitch. Now known as the Hillsborough Disaster, it was the darkest day in history not only of Liverpool Football Club, but English football as a whole. Rush, along with many of the players and Dalglish, attended the funerals of the victims.

Ninety-six gone, but never forgotten. JFT96

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The 1989/90 season was Rush’s fifth and last title win as Liverpool finished nine points clear of Aston Villa. The striker finished the season with 18 goals in 36 games for the club. However, Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup in a surprise defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace. Rush had managed to score to give the Reds the lead in the 14th minute, but the match ended in a 4-3 loss. Liverpool had trashed them 9-0 earlier in the season, so a defeat wasn’t thought to be on the cards. Dalglish went on to win Manager of the Year for the third time.

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The European ban was finally lifted for all English clubs excluding Liverpool, as they faced an extra year on top of the other clubs. The Reds missed out again on competing for the European Cup, but our return to glory was now in sight.

In the 1990/91 season, Ian Rush continued to do what he did best by continuing to score goals as Liverpool led the league all the way up until January of that season, but were overtaken by Arsenal in February.

Kenny Dalglish stepped down as Liverpool manager on the 22nd of February, 1991. He left with his head held high after a job well done. Everyone associated with the club adored him, and that love and admiration remains to this day.

Graeme Souness was appointed as the new Liverpool manager, but the team didn’t have the end to the season that he’d hoped for. They were eliminated from the FA Cup in the 5th round by Everton and also missed out on the title that year, but did manage to finish in 2nd place which meant they finally got the opportunity to compete in European competition again for the first time since the 1984/85 season.

On the 18th of October 1992, Rush scored his 287th goal for the club during a match against Manchester United, surpassing his hero, Sir Roger Hunt, as the leading goalscorer in Liverpool’s history.

In the Autumn of 1993, Souness appointed Rush as captain, which he fully deserved. He also received a very promising new strike-partner by the name of Robbie Fowler. They connected well, and the Welshman took the young lad under his wing, passing on his goalscoring wisdom, just as Dalglish had done for him many years before.

Souness went on to step down as manager in January 1994, and Roy Evans took over. Rush played his 600th game for Liverpool against Blackburn in the 5th round of the League Cup and celebrated by scoring his thirteenth hattrick for the club. Rush scored 16 goals in total that season. Liverpool reached the final of the League Cup against Bolton, and Rush lifted the Cup as captain of Liverpool Football Club, fulfilling a long-held dream.

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Rush continued as captain and figured in the team at the start of the 95/96 season, but was then sidelined through injury. In his absence, Fowler, and the new boy Stan Collymore, established a good rapport together. In 1996, Rush scored against Rochdale in the third round of the FA Cup at Anfield. It was his 42nd goal in the competition and put him one above Denis Law who had previously held the record for most goals in FA Cup history. Rush also received an MBE from the Queen for his services and achievements in the game.

On the 27th of April, 1996, he played his farewell match at Anfield. He came on as substitute in a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, but couldn’t get on the score sheet. It was an emotional day for all concerned, but also a fantastic day for Rush. His commitment, dedication, and professionalism towards the club was phenomenal, and Liverpool FC had the privilege of having such a monumental superstar grace the club for so many years.

Rush said:

“After the final whistle went the reception I got will live with me forever. I’m sorry I didn’t score. The fans were willing me to score and I wanted to score as much for them, as they wanted me too. I wanted to stay on the pitch forever”.

He played his final League game against Manchester City and scored with the match finishing in a 2-2 draw. His last ever appearance for Liverpool was at Wembley in the FA Cup final. Rush came on as a sub in the second half, but the game ended in a 1-0 loss to Manchester United. Ian Rush had played his last ever game for us and was now ready to part ways and join his new club, Leeds United.

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PASTURES NEW

Rush signed for Leeds on a free transfer in the Summer of 1996. He spent one season there, but only managed to score 3 goals in 36 Premier League appearances.

He then reunited with his old-strike partner Kenny Dalglish, who was managing Newcastle United, but was benched when Alan Shearer returned from a long-term injury. However, Rush did score an important goal against Everton in a 1-0 win in the third round of the FA Cup which was his record-breaking 43rd goal in the competition. He also scored in a League Cup tie against Hull City before leaving to join Sheffield United on loan for a short period before officially departing Newcastle in 1998.

He then signed for Wrexham, but the then a 37-year-old was nearing the end of his playing career. He failed to score in 18 Division Two games, and even changed position to a midfield role towards the end of the season. He then made a brief comeback with Sydney Olympic in Australia, scoring one goal in three games before finally retiring in 1999, aged 38.

MANAGERIAL CAREER

After working as a part-time strikers coach for Liverpool under Gerard Houllier in 2003, he was appointed manager of Chester City in August 2004. The team wasn’t in good stead, and Rush had a difficult time as a result. The team managed to string together a two month long unbeaten run, but many doubted whether he was cut out for such a role.

Rush ruled himself out of contention to take the helm as Welsh manager in November 2004, deciding instead to stay at Chester, but later his assistant was sacked by Chester’s owner, prompting Rush to resign on principle. He was later interviewed for Peterborough’s managerial position but lost out to his former Liverpool teammate Mark Wright.

INTERNATIONAL CAREER

Ian Rush was also a star for his country, making his debut on the 21st of May, 1980. He played 73 times for Wales, scoring 28 goals, which of course, is another goalscoring record. His biggest disappointment was that he never got the opportunity to represent his country in the European Championships or World Cup. He played his final game for Wales on the 24th of January, 1966, after having a superb international career.

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PERSONAL LIFE

Ian Rush, MBE, married his wife, Tracy, in 1987, just before his move to Juventus. The couple have two sons together — Jonathon and Daniel. Jonathan went on to become a professional footballer as a striker for Welsh Premier League side New Cefn Druids in January 2009. The couple split in 2015. Ian is currently partnered with Irish model Carol Anthony.

HONOURS

Player

Liverpool
  • Football League First Division (5): 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1985–86, 1989–90
  • FA Cup (3): 1985–86, 1988–89, 1991–92
  • League Cup (5): 1980–81, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1994–95
  • FA Charity Shield (3): 1982, 1986 (shared), 1990
  • European Cup (2): 1980–81, 1983–84

Personal honours

  • PFA Young Player of the Year (1): 1983
  • PFA Players’ Player of the Year (1): 1984
  • FWA Footballer of the Year (1): 1984
  • BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year (1): 1984
  • PFA First Division Team of the Year (5): 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1991
  • PFA Team of the Century (1977-1996): 2007
  • European Golden Boot (1): 1984
  • First Division Golden Boot (1): 1984
  • Liverpool Top Goalscorer (8): 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1985–86, 1986–87, 1990–91, 1992–93, 1993–94
  • FAI International Football Awards – International Personality: 2010

Records

  • Second highest FA Cup scorer of all time, and highest in 20th century FA Cup with 44 goals (39 for Liverpool, 4 for Chester City, 1 for Newcastle United). Only Henry “Harry” Cursham of Notts County scored more – 49 goals between 1877 and 1888
  • Record FA Cup Final goalscorer with 5 goals
  • Joint record League Cup goalscorer with 49 goals (48 for Liverpool), shared with Geoff Hurst
  • First player to pick up 5 League Cup winners medals
  • Second highest Welsh international goalscorer with 28 goals
  • Record Liverpool goalscorer with 346 goals
  • Third top goalscorer in League football for Liverpool with 229 goals, behind Roger Hunt (245 goals) and Gordon Hodgson (233 goals)
  • Record Merseyside derby goalscorer with 25 goals for Liverpool against Everton
  • Record transfer sale for Chester City (£300,000)

 

(Source: Wikipedia)

SUMMING UP RUSH’S LIVERPOOL CAREER

Ian Rush was just about as good as they come. He broke countless Liverpool records during his incredible career. Liverpool FC owe him so much for all he gave to the club. Much of the silverware that now sits in the Anfield trophy room is largely down to his contributions. He’s now an ambassador for that club and a true Red, remaining a permanent fixture at Anfield to this day. The man, previously described as a quiet and shy, did a sterling job, particularly as our captain over the years.

His electric pace and eagle-eyed anticipation meant he was a nightmare to mark and his attacking partnership with Kenny Dalglish is regarded as one of the best ever. His runs onto perfectly weighted through-balls were Rush’s forte and when one-on-one with a ‘keeper, you’d bet your mortgage on him slotting the ball home.

Sir Kenny Dalglish said the following about Ian Rush:

“I have played with and against some of the greatest strikers in the world during the past dozen years, and the greatest compliment I can pay Ian Rush is that he stands in comparison with the best, he’s as good as any of them.

“He has a natural ability to score goals that some claim you’re even born with or not, but nobody can teach a footballer who’s just naturally gifted in front of goal and Rushie was that.

“You can improve your skills, fitness, technique, and how to pace yourself but when it comes to putting the ball in the net nobody can teach you that!

“Ian has scored consistently throughout his whole career. He’s already proved he was a genuinely gifted player, but Ian went on to add more to his game by growing in experience and improving as an all-round player. He’s prepared to chase back and tackle and make goals for his teammates. He also remained totally down to Earth even with his success and no question of him ever having a big ego.

“When he first joined Liverpool he was a very quiet shy lad who never opened his mouth in the dressing-room. He still doesn’t say a lot, even now. Ian did say that I helped him become the player he was, but my response to that is, as a player, you learn for yourself, and he was world-class!”

What a talent we had in our ranks for so many years, and Rush had the whole club, including his teammates, in awe of him. Ian Rush’s goals left the Kop with a heart-thumping 346 memories.

He’ll be forever revered as one of Anfield’s all-time greats, a hero, a legend, and the greatest striker ever to set foot on Anfield’s turf.

IAN RUSH, YNWA! 

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